The official answer is no. Turmeric isn’t likely to prevent breast cancer from developing or returning all on its own.

Keep in mind that a number of studies have shown that curcumin — the chemical compound found in turmeric — has many potential health benefits, including some linked to cancer prevention and treatment. But it’s also not easily processed in the body.

And while curcumin has been found to have positive effects on a variety of cancers, including breast cancer, researchers have encountered obstacles when using it as a therapy.

So even though turmeric may provide a number of health benefits and even help ward off some cancers, it’s not a replacement for proven, traditional treatments. Read on to learn more.

Curcumin is the active compound found in turmeric, a member of the ginger family.

Turmeric is a common spice used in traditional Indian cooking, especially in curry powder, and has long been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.

Known for its bright yellow color, consuming turmeric as a supplement or in foods has been associated with good health for centuries — and for good reason.

As a compound, curcumin has been shown to have positive health effects on many parts of the body. Some studies have shown curcumin may be used to combat breast cancer in several ways, including:

  • keeping cancer cells from growing
  • preventing cancer cells from spreading
  • stopping the cycle of reproduction in cancer cells
  • causing cancer cell destruction

It’s even been suggested that curcumin is particularly effective against certain types of breast cancers because it has properties that help to lower estrogen levels. Estrogen is a reproductive hormone that plays a role in the growth and spread of an estimated 70 percent of breast cancer types.

A 2018 report even showed that curcumin may also be useful in keeping breast cancer stem cells from forming. This is an important step in preventing breast cancer from recurring in people who have already managed the disease.

Why doesn’t my doctor recommend turmeric?

Researchers don’t fully understand how curcumin works in the body.

Curcumin is a polyphenol compound that is unstable in many other substances. This means that its chemical properties can change depending on what it’s combined with.

Curcumin has low bioavailability when it’s eaten. Very little of the active compound enters the blood stream when it’s eaten in foods or as a supplement.

Clinical studies are being done to investigate curcumin as a stand-alone treatment (monotherapy) or a combination therapy in treating breast cancer. Some examples include:

  • a clinical trial testing curcumin as the primary treatment for invasive breast cancer tumors
  • a clinical trial testing how well curcumin could work with the cancer drug paclitaxel as a combination therapy in treating primary and metastatic breast cancer
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Curcumin found in turmeric may enhance the efficiency of chemotherapies in treating cancer while also reducing unwanted or unpleasant side effects of these treatments. This was suggested in a 2019 review in the journal Molecules that looked specifically at curcumin combination chemotherapy.

Outside of the benefits specifically related to cancer, curcumin has also been credited with protecting physical health in other ways that could help your body fight cancer. Curcumin has been credited as an:

In Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, turmeric is often used to help treat:

  • digestive problems
  • wounds
  • arthritis
  • menstrual conditions
  • liver disorders
  • abdominal pain
  • circulation problems

Can curcumin cure or prevent cancer?

Until more research is done, curcumin and turmeric should only be considered as a complementary therapy to proven treatments. Experts caution that these kinds of integrative therapies should not be used to replace or delay standard, proven therapies used in cancer treatment.

Integrative medicine is widely used to treat many conditions, especially cancer. These treatments may provide additional therapeutic benefits alongside standard treatments, like the use of ginger in relieving nausea caused by chemotherapy.

Diet changes and nutritional supplements are popular forms of integrative treatment, and turmeric is usually included. Talk with a doctor about any nutritional or dietary supplements you’re taking.

Ask a doctor about taking turmeric if you’re experiencing any of the following in addition to breast cancer:

Turmeric can also react with a number of other medications, supplements, or medical conditions. Possible negative side effects or reactions of turmeric can include:

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Turmeric is a flowering plant that grows in tropical climates. To use as a spice or medicinally, the root of the turmeric plant is dried and chopped up or ground into a fine powder. You can typically buy turmeric in chopped or powdered form at many markets and grocery stores.

When used in cooking, this powder can be directly added into foods for flavor or color. When used medicinally or as a nutritional supplement, the general consensus is that between 500 to 2,000 milligrams (mg) per day is enough.

You’ll need to eat about 2 teaspoons of this yellow powder to get about 500 mg of turmeric, so consuming 2,000 mg directly or in food can be a challenge if you’re not a fan of the taste or texture.

But turmeric is sold in a number of ways that can be added into your diet without eating it in your foods. Liquid extracts are the most potent, but you can purchase turmeric supplements in capsules, pills, and gummies.

Some causes of breast cancer are preventable, but others are not.

Breast cancer can be passed down in families through genetic mutations that increase your risk of developing breast cancer, especially in combination with lifestyle or environmental factors.

But some lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk or help prevent breast cancer altogether.

You can’t completely prevent any type of cancer, but you can reduce your chances of developing breast cancer by:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • eating a balanced diet
  • avoiding or limiting alcohol
  • breastfeeding, if you’re able
  • avoiding hormonal therapy after menopause

Talk with a doctor if you know that a form of inherited breast cancer runs in your family. A doctor can help you take steps to prevent breast cancer by recommending:

  • increased breast cancer screening
  • genetic testing and counseling
  • medications to help reduce your risk
  • prophylactic surgery, or removal of an organ before it develops cancer

Research suggests that curcumin found in turmeric can have a lot of healthy benefits, including the potential to fight or even prevent breast cancer and other cancers.

It’s still unclear how turmeric is best used medicinally, but it can be used in many cases as a complementary therapy alongside other treatments like chemotherapy.

Speak with a doctor before you take turmeric or any other supplements. While these supplements may help, there are many aspects involved in a successful cancer treatment plan.